The comment above was appended to a Feb. 4, 2015, article on lifehacker titled “Don't Quit the Social Networks You Hate. Bend Them to Your Will.” The article suggests social networks are more useful than annoying and shares ways to deal with the “time-suck” networking can be, including using them sparingly. Another option is to set up an autopilot account that posts for you so it SEEMS like you’re active when you’re really soaking in a bubble bath with a glass of wine, sort of like having one of those lamps on a timer that turns off and on when you go on vacation so it LOOKS like you’re home.
If these measures aren’t enough to curb one’s overuse of social networks, the article recommends Tough Love: blocking, unfriending, unliking, clicking “hide” or “I don’t want to see this.” People driven to curb their use of networks shouldn’t quit altogether, they should step away from the network and let their profiles just BE, like a coffee table book that requires only occasional dusting. Why? Because employers, old friends, and stalkers expect to find you online—besides, doesn’t it get tedious explaining why you don’t use social networks?
But the reason I’ve invited you in today isn’t to talk about social networks, it’s to talk about the quote at the top of this column from a person who wants to walk away from the biggest social network of all: Facebook. How big is Facebook? According to The Washington Post, the number of people who use Facebook is the same as the number of people who live in China. Yet the writer wants out. Why? First, the writer refers to him or her self as “an insecure child” when using Facebook. Second, the writer self-flagellates over posting “too many ridiculously unimportant, self-absorbed things,” Last, the writer says, “I do not like who I become on FB.”
If we replace “FB” with “smoking” in that first sentence, we’ve got something an addict might say. Are social networks addictive? Why, yes, according to researchers at Chicago University’s Booth Business School, who concluded that tweeting or checking emails might be harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol. They say that sleep and sex may be stronger urges, but people are more likely to succumb to social media, although you can get the monkey off your back if you really want to.
Check out the second sentence. Who hasn’t felt that little warm fuzzy when somebody “likes” something you say on FB? But does depending on “likes” make you an “insecure child”? I know a person who took a FB break for that very reason: he thought nobody liked him in real life if he didn’t get enough “likes” on FB. He wisely realized THAT was messed up, so he took a break to screw his head back on. (Yes, he’s fine now. He sends his “Like.”) Conversely, it hurts when you’re misunderstood. I made a remark under a friend’s post that meant one thing to me but meant quite another to his troll friends, who savaged me over two days until, bruised and disgusted, I deleted my remark so the trolls wouldn’t sniff me out and start savaging me on my own page.
If people don’t “like” you often enough but don’t savage you either, is that good? No, because that might mean you’re boring. It might mean your friends have decided to ignore your single-minded obsession with Shrek. It might even mean people don’t read your posts but you don’t know it because you’re too self-absorbed to care. More than once, I’ve spent time composing a post and then thought, “Does anybody care about this but me?” and deleted the whole thing. Or I’ve read posts and thought, “I did not need to know that you are eating pastrami on rye right now, particularly since I’m 300 miles from decent pastrami myself.”
Of course we know not every one of our FB friends reads every one of our posts. That’s for addicts. We pick and choose what is of interest. In the lifehacker article, for example, one man said, “I stopped using Facebook years ago, when I hit the age that ‘friends’ (people I haven't spoken to in over a decade) started posting pictures of their kids. I don't like kids, and I really don't like *your* kids.”
Fair enough. On FB, I “hide” articles about abused animals or abused children or abused women because those articles make me want to find the abusers and give them a little hair of the dog, and I don’t like being somebody who wants to go all Old Testament on other humans, not even if they deserve it.
The last sentence I want to talk about, the one that grabbed me by the chin, was “I do not like who I become on FB.” That remark implies a whole ‘nother dimension, because I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of being one person in real life and another person online. Maintaining a tissue of lies seems a colossal waste of time and energy. (No, I never falsified a dating profile. Which may explain a lot now that I think about it.)
True, I express myself more circumspectly online than I do in person, given how frightfully easy it is to misunderstand a message when the only medium of communication is black letters on a white background. In addition, the assumption about social media seems to be if you say something online, you’re OK with it being shared, reviled, bounced, truncated, and plagiarized. So I edit before and after I post. I try (and, sadly, often often fail) to be the Zen guy on top of the mountain if somebody ticks me off.
But I don’t dislike who I am on FB, because she is me. If I tell the truth, if I talk about interesting things in an interesting way, if I respect readers' time--then I’m using social media like I use any other tool of communication to connect with people and to counter stupidity. I don’t wish to save myself from myself, nor am I qualified to save anybody else, but I can try to do good.